The Toronto Zoo is mourning the loss of a long-time resident.
On Apr. 10, Samson the grizzly bear passed away at the Zoo’s Canadian Domain habitat. He was 25 years old.
Samson first arrived at the Zoo on Sept. 22, 1998, when he was approximately six months old. Born in Alaska, state officials found him wandering, undernourished and with no mother, the Toronto Zoo reports.
Soon after arriving at the Zoo, he was joined by Shintay, a female grizzly. For 24 years, the two lived together in their Canadian Domain habitat.
Despite his size of more than 1,000 lbs, Samson was regarded as a “gentle bear,” the Zoo reports.
“His keepers were constantly impressed by his intelligence and motivation when training for new behaviours,” Toronto Zoo said in a statement. “He seemed to enjoy his one-on-one time with the Wildlife Care staff, which led to a high level of trust and a bond that made caring for him a privilege.”
The decision to humanely euthanize Samson was made soon after he awoke from hibernation this year, the Zoo shares, as it was apparent the bear was experiencing stiffness and discomfort from progressive arthritic changes to his hips and knees.
Canadian Domain Wildlife Care staff were with Samson for his last moments. They exchanged stories about the bear while he enjoyed honey, his favourite treat.
“Samson’s connection to his keepers was apparent even in his final moments,” the Zoo shared. “After enjoying a special meal of salmon, watermelon, and berries, he voluntarily presented his hip and shoulder for his last anaesthetic injection from the veterinary team, just as he had practiced daily for most of his life. While it is hard to say goodbye, there is comfort in knowing this voluntary participation means he experienced minimal stress or discomfort.”
To mark Samson’s passing, the Zoo’s Indigenous Relations team arranged a ceremony with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. This was to honour both the importance of Mkwa—the bear to Indigenous People—as well as Samson’s spirit.
“The ceremony was based on Anishnaabe and Tsimshian teachings, using various medicines, pipe ceremony, and songs,” the Zoo shared in a statement. “Samson was present, and the ceremony conductors gave him a cedar bath. Tsimshian People are from the Northwest coast of British Columbia and hold very strong connections to grizzlies. We felt it was important to have this representation and are honoured to have them with us for the ceremony.”
For more on the life of Samson, check out the video below, courtesy Toronto Zoo.